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A teenage girl looking for connection and affection falls prey to an older man who says all the right things — but has all the wrong intentions — in Jamie Dack’s wrenching drama Palm Trees and Power Lines. Often difficult to watch as it follows lonely Lea’s (Lily McInerny) willing entry into Tom’s (Jonathan Tucker) untrustworthy orbit, the film is ultimately part character study and part grooming cautionary tale.

Left largely at loose ends during her summer break, Lea feels like a second (or third or fourth) priority to her often-distracted single mom, Sandra (Gretchen Mol), who’s trying to balance parenthood with work and dating. Lea’s friendships — and hook-ups — aren’t fulfilling, either; it’s clear that she doesn’t feel truly seen or understood by anyone who’s supposedly close to her. Then she meets Tom, and everything changes. Yes, he’s much older than she is, but he appreciates her, and he gets her — or at least that’s what it feels like. And so, for the first time in a long while, she feels special.

That desperately needed feeling helps Lea ignore or explain away some disconcerting moments and exchanges that should be setting off alarm bells for her — though, of course, she’s only a kid, so it shouldn’t be her responsibility to see through a predator’s machinations. As we watch Tom expertly manipulate her vulnerability and inexperience, we see exactly how a successful groomer operates. By the time he reveals his true plan, he’s gotten her just where he wants her: utterly dependent on him and his approval.

It hopefully won’t be a spoiler to say that Dack’s sometimes-bleak story isn’t an afterschool special, which means it doesn’t have a tidy, upbeat ending. What it does have is a gritty realism that makes Lea’s experience and choices all the more heartbreaking, giving the film the kind of impact that will have you thinking about it days later, especially if you know (or have been) an insecure teenage girl. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Sherin Nicole You’ll hear “disturbing” or “cautionary tale” and I do not deny those things are true. Palm Trees and Power Lines does not caution so much as scream to be shared with young women, so they might recognize the trap of a hunter before falling prey. The presentation is often yellowed or at times cast in greyed darkness, with an almost dingy grain that suggests what lies within is tainted. That is another truth. Equally undeniable, the ending is as ominous as a razor blade across the carotid.

Jamie Broadnax Jamie Dacks’ Palm Trees and Power Lines is one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen this year. The intention behind the film is to have the viewer sit in the discomfort of a narrative about an underage teenage girl named Lea (Lily Mcinerny) carrying on an affair with a 34-year old man named Tom (Jonathan Tucker). And while at first there is a concern whether this repulsive relationship is somehow being romanticized, Dacks hits us with a gut punch about the iniquitous intentions of this man and slowly unveils who he really is. Lea has a fantasy of who she sees in her ideal guy but Tom is more than meets the eye. I sat through this feeling uneasy about this relationship from beginning to end, yet empathizing with Lea’s need for seeking a person as morally corrupt as Tom. The film’s plot sets the groundwork seamlessly for Lea’s motives, which at the end, turns tragic in the worst way. Jamie Dacks’ film is a movie that sits with you, haunts you, and reminds you that there are many girls like Lea in the world starving for affection and love, and looking for them in all the wrong the places.

Leslie Combemale The same potential disasters await teenage girls now as they did 50 years ago, and the proliferation of alienating elements like social media have only made everything worse. Girls in 2023 do not, as they might believe, mature faster than in any other era. In fact, one could argue learning to discern the authenticity and motivations of others has become harder in the age of iPhones, texting, and Instagram. Palm Trees and Power Lines gets to the heart of these truths in a terrifying and all too realistic way, but it is subject matter that needs to be considered. That being said, a trigger warning should accompany the film for anyone with sexual trauma. The story wouldn’t be as believable or gut wrenching without the fantastic performances of Jonathan Tucker and newcomer Lily McInerny. They get the power imbalance just right, even when it isn’t portrayed through words. Palm Trees and Power Lines is a reminder that, now more than ever, there are many pretty packages, guy-wise, that have rot inside, and the younger the girl, the harder it is for them to recognize the rot.

Jennifer Merin Palm Trees and Power Lines, a chilling narrative feature from writer/director Jamie Dacks, is the story of Lea, a vulnerable teen girl who finds relief from her feelings of loneliness and isolation by befriending an older man who seems to fill her dreams. Tom is her secret crush whom she hides from her BFF and sees separately from the clique of high school cohorts whose behavior alienates her — and from the single sex-starved mom who pays more attention to random dates than to her daughter. This handsome dude who is twice her age is her hero. He is the ultimate easy going nice guy. He showers her with kind comments, creates soulful moments for her and builds her self confidence. But as you watch their relationship develop you wonder, with increasing concern, where it will land. Palm Trees and Power Lines is the laudable first feature from Jamie Dack. Bravely unhurried pacing, incisive cinematography and stunning performances keep the tensions high. This film is a deeply disturbing caustionary tale. As Lea’s naive trust in Tom grows, you find yourself screaming — internally or out loud — “No, don’t go there. don’t do that.” With parental supervision, this is a must see film for teen girls.

Pam Grady: Teenage Lea (Lily McInery) is at loose ends and bored with the graceless fumbling of boys her own age when she meets Tom (Jonathan Tucker). He’s old enough to be her dad but he’s handsome and youthful and charming. Ever so charming, and he love bombs her. Only gradually does his real personality and his dire motives emerge, promising an ugly future if Lea remains with him. But she is young and in love and torn between saving herself and surrendering to the darkness. Adapting her own short film, Jamie Dack has created a tense, character-driven drama that lucidly explicates how a smart but naïve young woman could fall under the spell of a predator. Gorgeously shot and dripping with atmosphere, Palm Trees and Power Lines is chilling cinema, made even more so by the stunning turns of the two leads, particularly Tucker who burrows deep under Tom’s reptilian skin.

Loren King It’s impossible to turn away from this compelling film but impossible not to watch with a sense of dread. Lily McInerny is a natural who is well cast. She nails what 17 really looks like in appearance and demeanor — an insecure, naïve, awkward kid raised on social media who’s hungry for someone to pay attention to her and easily enamored of a “cool” guy. That such vulnerability is so casually exploited is the film’s unwavering course, particularly as it progresses into its horrifying third act. Read full review.

Sandie Angulo Chen: Palm Trees and Power Lines is a powerful if disturbing coming-of-age film about a 17-year-old girl (Lily McInerny) who becomes entangled with a 34-year-old man (Jonathan Tucker) one summer. Writer-director Jamie Dack captures how a teen bored with inattentive and selfish boys her own age is easily seduced by an observant older man who knows exactly how to make a teen girl on the cusp of adulthood feel seen and wanted. Tucker, a former child star, is chillingly believable as Tom, and McInerny is hauntingly expressive as Lea, the teen whose older crush turns out to be far more nefarious than she could have imagined. Painful but important to see, Palm Trees and Power Lines is a reminder of why the Lolita trope is so dangerous to girls and young women.

Liz Whittemore Writer-director Jamie Dack and co-writer Audrey Findlay bring audiences a stark warning dressed in an award-winning narrative drama in Palm Trees and Power Lines. Seventeen-year-old Lea struggles with her place in the world, surrounded by degenerate friends and a single mother more concerned with dates than her daughter. When Tom, a man twice her age, saves the day, Lea becomes infatuated with his flowery words and promises. Palm Trees and Power Lines is like watching a slow-motion car crash. Tom’s deliberate grooming raises immediate red flags for any adult in the audience. Actor Jonathan Tucker settles into the role of Tom with such ease that he is both slimy and effortlessly charming. Lily McInerny’s Lea holds the audience captive with her innocent gaze and fiery boldness. Dack’s pacing establishes the shaky yet familiar mother-daughter relationship that drives Lea to seek attention elsewhere. McInerny brings the viewer along every unsettling step of the way. The moment she disassociates in the film, so do we. The numbness of her circumstances consumes the viewer in turn. Palm Trees and Power Lines establishes the impact of how trauma and secrets shape you. It is an often challenging and cringeworthy watch, but you cannot look away.

Cate Marquis Seventeen-year-old Lea (Lily McInerney), is a girl adrift, feeling neglected by her single mother (Gretchen Mol) and forgotten by her absent father. In writer/director Jamie Dacks’ feature film debut Palm Trees and Power Lines, she has a chance meeting with a man twice her age. Tom (Jonathan Tucker) is polite, gentle, patient, and really listens, and we can feel Leah respond to his almost fatherly attention. What seems at first like an inappropriate romance, later takes an unnerving turn into something more sinister. Palm Trees and Power Lines is a chilling cautionary tale, and an impressive directorial debut for Jamie Dacks.


Title: Palm Trees and Power Lines

Director: Jamie Dack

Release Date: March 3, 2023

Running Time: 110 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriters: Jamie Dack, Audrey Findlay

Distribution Company: Momentum Pictures

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Jamie Broadnax, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore

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Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).